Reality Bites: 7 Ways Your Retainer Is Really Just Like Your Boyfriend

by Emily Arata

If you’re seeking a faithful companion, maybe it’s time to stop speed dating and check the drawer of your nightstand. No, not for that friend – for your retainer.

It’s not often you hear dental appliances compared to anything romantic -- except for the one weird time you had to get a cavity filled on Valentine’s Day -- but, there are more similarities between your bae and your retainer than you might’ve realized.

After years spent pressing wax blobs into your cheeks as a defense against orthodontia-induced scratches, your photo-ready teeth feel hard-won. Your perfect smile took years of pain, so you’re not about to let it shift back to the jagged Tic Tacs you once had.

In just the same way, dating is a long, hard battle to find the ideal match. Once you find your person, there’s no letting go.

Both boyfriends and retainers have the unfortunate responsibility of keeping you in check. A retainer unfailingly holds your teeth in position, while a significant other holds your hair while you vomit.

What's more, both see you at your most vulnerable. Whether it's during an emotional breakdown or directly after a guilty Cheetos binge, you can't hide them from the truth.

Both your mouthpiece and your boyfriend come with a honeymoon phase.

At the beginning of any long-term relationship, everything is new. There are no annoying personality qualities, just sweet quirks.

You and your new boyfriend hop from boozy brunch to rooftop dinner without a care, staring into each other’s eyes. You’re a little too busy crushing to care about who he is.

Like boyfriends, retainers begin to drop their perfect facade a few months into the relationship.

After getting your braces removed, you ran your tongue over slimy, bare teeth and promised never to let them shift. Because orthodontists recommend wearing your retainer every day for several months after braces removal, you and your plastic best friend got to know each other intimately.

Committing to a life with your retainer scares you a bit.

The easiest way to induce a pseudo panic attack in the commitment-phobic is by dropping any reference to the future.

A year or two into a relationship, your boyfriend might begin dropping hints about “when” you’re married or “when” you share his last name. It doesn’t exactly make you want to dump him and run, but you might need a glass of wine to digest what he’s saying.

If you think a boyfriend demands commitment, consider your retainer. Orthodontist Dr. Adam Goodman recommends keeping your retainer as long as you’d like to keep your perfect smile, popping it in once or twice per week. He compares it to an anti-aging cream, which most women are eager to apply every night.

Your retainer will be with you from the age of 16 until you swap out dental care for dentures. Are you hyperventilating yet?

Your retainer remembers the best version of you.

A quality boyfriend understands you always wash your hands right after coming home, and you hate the sauce that comes with your egg rolls. He knows your weirdest habits and rarely judges you for them.

And, on the days where you’re really out of sorts, he calls you out. The only other force in your life that does the same thing is your retainer, laughable as it may sound.

If you take a week off, Goodman says your teeth will shift almost immediately. But, when you pop in your night guard once more, your teeth will edge right back into the optimal position.

Your retainer knows you better than you know yourself.

During drawn-out hours in the orthodontist's chair, spread over endless appointments, you probably devoted hours to dreaming about life with braces-free teeth. So, when the day came to have a retainer mold made, you were only too happy to commit to a relationship with your new best friend.

The retainer, whether wire or plastic, knows every gap, ridge and surface of your teeth. In fact, it was probably the first bespoke item you'd ever owned.

Just so, a new boyfriend makes a valiant attempt to learn the person you are. You may tell him you religiously workout and only crunch on salad, but he’s bound to notice you order (and inhale) a pizza every time you’re drunk.

Every once in awhile, you need a break.

No relationship can flourish if you’re constantly in each other's space, so sometimes the best decision is to take time apart.

This process isn’t fun for either party, but if often requires a bit of freedom from your boyfriend’s loud chewing, as you to realize how much you miss him. Of course, there’s also the off chance the break could become a break-up.

In just the same way, every retainer relationship reaches a breaking point. You’re tired of speaking with a slur every night. Stopping to slide in a plastic mouthguard before bed is killing your love life. Either way, you two take some time apart while you reevaluate what’s most important.

The dedicated types, committed to their love of pearly whites, will dig out that retainer months later and begin again. For most, however, the retainer stays in that drawer with the rest of The Exes.

You and your retainer find yourself growing apart – literally.

Your boyfriend might've seemed ideal at first, but you just can't get over his habit of never saying "please." Whatever the turnoff is, it grows a little stronger each day until you have "the talk" reevaluate your relationship.

Like romantic partners, retainers often change over time until they no longer fit quite right. You may have spent one too many days sleeping without its guidance, or ran it under hot water (that warps the plastic, according to Dr. Tanya Vaysman). Either way, the day comes when your beloved retainer just doesn't fit anymore.

As you admit defeat and call the orthodontist to have a new mouthguard made, reflect on all the times you've shared.

Some relationships have a timeline attached.

Though the Parisian gentlemen you met on vacation was romantic and handsome, your days of romance were never going to extend past the two-week-long trip you'd planned in France.

And that's just it: no matter how great, every relationship comes to an end.

Although your retainer has faithfully guarded your teeth for years, you have to say goodbye eventually. If it's a plastic mouthguard, Dr. Goodman says that's around two years. Wire retainers can last up to a decade, keeping your teeth in check with perfect accuracy.

Though it may be tough, it's time for both a new love and a freshly molded retainer. Like any relationship, the end is bittersweet.